Between Pose, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Kiki, and My House, the ballroom club scene is having a pop culture moment. Meanwhile, it remains one of the most vital forms of expression for LGBTQ people of color communities, just as it did more than 150 years ago.
One of the best known elements of that scene—due, in part, to the groundbreaking documentary on 1980s ball culture in NYC, Paris Is Burning, and Madonna—is vogue. It has nothing to do with Anna Wintour, of course, but rather is a complex and expressive dance form with a variety of constantly evolving technical approaches. Some experienced vogue performers affiliate with dance company “houses,” mirroring the form’s aesthetic appropriation of haute couture fashion.
You might be able to guess the social politics of erudite Chicago-based teacher and dancer Benji Hart based on their affiliation with the social justice–focused House Lives Matter. For Hart, who identifies as “black, queer, femme,” their work exploring vogue in performance isn’t just about the grace of motion, “it’s about honoring the innovators who are still adding to and transforming this tradition. By nature, that requires the work to be a political and activist venture, just as much as it is a creative one.”
Next week Hart is performing a work-in-progress piece, World After This One, at Brooklyn’s BRIC House, but first they’ll be hosting an interactive Intro to Voguing workshop tonight. Hart promises the workshop will be much more than an academic affair. They do have formal training as an educator, but “work hard to foster learning spaces where everyone entering is both a teacher and student. The goal is not to master a skill, but to come away with a greater understanding of history, community, conflict, and self.”
If you attend the workshop, plan to do more than just watch. Participation will be mandatory for all attendees. “I have taught workshops where people from outside of the core community show up just to take pictures for social media. The expectation in demanding that everyone present participate is also about making sure that marginalized bodies—black, queer, or otherwise—are not put on display and that the workshop doesn’t just become another way of consuming us.”
The contemporary bent toward mainstreaming vogue has left Hart necessarily cautious against such appropriation. “Vogue was generated by street youth, sex workers, trans people, and incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people of color. We cannot understand the form, and cannot practice it meaningfully, unless we honor its creators by fighting alongside them in the present. While I celebrate the fact that voguers’ skills have opened up the world for us, I have a special appreciation for those who are committed to loving and caring for our community right here.”
Intro to Voguing
647 Fulton Street, Downtown Brooklyn
Friday, September 21
Admission limited to first 30 participants